Published May 19, 2009As concept records go, the ambitious new disc from hip-hop three-piece Tanya Morgan keeps well away from the predictably one-dimensional crime tales so many in the genre have tried to pawn off as "concept art" over the years, choosing instead to breathe life into the fictional city that shares the record's name. Brooklynati (drawn from the hometowns of Brooklyn and Cincinnati) is a wise-cracking, party-rocking, real-talking ode to the idealized good old days many of us hold near and dear, from local record shops, underground jams and late night college radio sessions to the self-effacing flows and butter melodies that have endeared groups like De La Soul to so many. With smooth, sample-rich beats by producer/MC Von Pea and affiliate Brickbeats, the crew bounce from one punch line-heavy groove to the next as they slide around a cityscape filled out by realistic radio spots promoting free shows in Yauncy Park, and references to barber shops. The sense of familiarity that pervades the disc, like the lyrical nods to groups like Onyx, the Pharcyde and "Scenario," on "Hardcore Gentlemen," should bring back a lot of good memories, while guest spots from current heroes Phonte, Blu and a host of others ensure that Tanya Morgan's nostalgic trip is never trapped in an overplayed past.
How deep did you guys take the concept behind the city of Brooklynati?
Von Pea: I would say with the album as a whole we learned that you don't really go too deep into a concept or else you take the risk of being corny. So it's basically just things we've been through as artists and as men. But Brooklynati can be anywhere, [and] we wanted people to continue to be able to relate to it. We tried not to go too much into rap life because a lot of artists do that - they talk too much about what's going on as a rapper - and then you as a fan can't really relate to it 'cause you don't know. So we just talk about life, and through that people can relate.
You spend a lot of time on this record referencing groups that came before you. Was there an awareness of that during the creative process?
Ilyas: We feel it's important to pay homage to our predecessors. The thing that's kind of sad about the state of hip-hop right now is if you look at rock or jazz and these other musical art forms they really respect their elders, where as with hip-hop it's like our elders are disposable and we forget about them. We'll only show praise to what's in our face, and the people that are [out] there, a lot of times, don't really even know the history.
Donwill: Even in approaching Brooklynati, I remember at a certain point in time we were just like, "make a list of sophomore albums that you love - then go listen to them." We actually [listened], not to copy but to see what it was about these albums that we love so much. So you can kind of see the strains of each [of those] albums and what composed us as MCs, and what makes Von's beats the way they are. It fleshes things out a little bit better when you study what you're actually doing. (Interdependent)